The San Francisco 49ers have yet another tall task ahead of them in the Week 10 rematch against the New Orleans Saints. San Francisco looks drastically different heading into the Big Easy this time around as a wounded 49ers team looks to even their record before heading into the Week 11 Bye. Here are four things to watch for in the NFC showdown against a high-powered Saints team on Sunday.
1. Return of Offensive Reinforcements
The 49ers were without several key players in the Week 9 Thursday night showdown against the Green Bay Packers. Fortunately for San Francisco, their offense should receive an added boost on Sunday with the return of two starters.
Brandon Aiyuk and Trent Williams were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last week after being listed as having close contact with Kendrick Bourne, who was identified as having tested a false positive for COVID-19. Since, both Aiyuk and Williams have been cleared from the list and are set to return against New Orleans. Bourne's status, however, remains to be determined as he was added to the list for the second time on Monday. He'll be required to pass three-consecutive negative tests before rejoining the team. According to Kyle Shanahan, "there's a chance" Bourne can rejoin the team for their final walkthroughs on Friday and travel to New Orleans.
"He can get in tomorrow," Shanahan said on KNBR. "If he can get in, it'll be a good deal. We're a little depleted right now."
San Francisco's receiving corps could be without Deebo Samuel on Sunday. Samuel missed his second-straight practice of the week after being sidelined during the 49ers previous two matchups with a hamstring injury. Per Shanahan, Samuel is a "long shot" to play on Sunday.
2. Familiar Faces in New Places
San Francisco's roster from their last matchup at the Superdome will look drastically different than Week 14 of the 2019 season. Eight of San Francisco's 11 offensive starters are either out with injuries or no longer on the 49ers roster. Similarly on defense, just six of last year's starters are set to return on Sunday.
New Orleans didn't get to see Kwon Alexander in 2019 as the linebacker missed time with a pectoral tear, but instead, will make his debut as a member of the Saints against his former team on Sunday. The 49ers sent Alexander to New Orleans earlier this month in exchange for veteran linebacker Kiko Alonso and a conditional fifth-round draft pick as San Francisco looks to move forward to Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw manning the middle of the defense.
More notably, the 49ers will face off against Emmanuel Sanders for the first time since departing San Francisco in free agency to sign with New Orleans. Sanders was acquired by the 49ers in a mid-season trade with the Denver Broncos where he appeared in 10 games and served as a significant boost to San Francisco's offense and their Super Bowl run.
This season, Sanders is averaging 11.4 yards per reception and 6.8 targets a game. He leads all Saints receivers with 30 receptions for 342 yards and three touchdowns through six games. During last year's contest against New Orleans, Sanders had an impressive outing, registering a season-high 157 yards on seven receptions, one receiving touchdown and even completed a touchdown pass to Raheem Mostert in San Francisco's 48-46 thrilling victory.
Sanders discussed his eagerness to play his former team on Uninterrupted's 17 Weeks Podcast, where he didn't hold back on his desire to match up against San Francisco. With the position the 49ers are at heading into Week 10, the feeling is undoubtedly mutual.
3. Kamara vs. Warner
It's not often the best player on each team will face off against one another on gamedays, however, that appears to be the case in Week 10 as linebacker Fred Warner will be tasked with containing Saints All-Pro running back Alvin Kamara.
Kamara is a dynamic playmaker who has been a nightmare for opposing defenses. Not only does he lead New Orleans in rushing yards (471), carries (96) and rushing touchdowns (5), he's also the Saints leading receiver with 565 yards on 60 receptions and three more touchdowns through eight games. His ability to break tackles and amass yards after the play has him ranked tied for second among NFL running backs with explosive carries of 20 yards-or-more.
Meanwhile, Warner is off to the best start of his young NFL career. So far this season, he has earned the best coverage grade of any linebacker (88.6), according to Pro Football Focus. Warner has held quarterbacks to just a 58.0 passer rating in coverage, almost 50 points lower than the average mark when throwing into a linebacker's coverage. He's also generated 24 defensive stops and has only missed four tackles through nine games this season.
Warner has also notched two interceptions and a pass breakup on the year, and he hasn't been beaten for a catch longer than 21 yards all season. If Warner is one of the best players for the 49ers this season, the same goes for Kamara's do-it-all ability with the Saints. Sunday makes for a marquee matchup for both standouts going head-to-head in Week 10.
4. Return of (actual) Crowd Noise
Last year, 49ers fans rivaled those of the hometown team during San Francisco's Week 14 matchup against the Saints. Fans crowded the streets, and seats of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the conference thriller that propelled the 49ers atop of the NFC.
This year won't be nearly as raucous, but will certainly be more of a heightened atmosphere than the 49ers have shouldered in previous weeks. The city of New Orleans reached an agreement with the Saints to allow fans to attend games in the Superdome, with a 6,000-person max capacity ahead of Sunday's matchup. This marks the first game of the season that the 49ers will experience fans in a stadium, something the team is embracing, even if the vast majority of spectators are doning opposing colors.
"It's always exciting to have people in the building watching you play football – that's what this game was made for," right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. "Probably won't be the same craziness it was last year in New Orleans and what that atmosphere was like. So, anything like that from an offensive lineman's standpoint is actually OK going down there because it's tough to block people when you have to look at the football the whole time to see if it's snapped or not. So, we're fortunate we're not going to have deafening noise, but it's definitely going to be exciting to hear some for sure."